In my last installment, I looked at the Rockies prospects and current major leaguers between the ages of 22-24 and tried to show, as long as people were looking at both prospects and big leaguers, that the team was well situated in that age group. Today I'm going to look at what the Rockies have done to build the next wave after that.
As with last week, there's an important caveat when looking at these prospect lists before you judge too harshly. Just like you can't ignore those players no longer eligible for rookie status in the older group, you should understand that a lot of the talent that will come up to the big leagues in this younger age group haven't even been drafted into the system yet. Clubs that have had greater success drafting college players should probably be given bonus consideration with their current 18-20 year old players, those that struggle with their college picks should be downgraded. The Rockies? They probably land somewhere on the positive side of that spectrum, although their results have been more mixed the last couple of years.
The next important thing to understand is that publications will be hesitant to rank younger players at all until they've somehow shown that there's a decent chance that they will live up to their promise. Rarely this may be done simply by convincing enough scouts of the potential to merit an exceptionally high draft position (Tim Beckham) or signing bonus (Michael Inoa), occasionally by a standout performance in the complex or rookie leagues (Wilin Rosario), but you'll typically find that most of the prospects ranked by Baseball America in this age range have had some success in full season play.
Of the 185 players ranked in BA's position rankings, only 57, or just over 30%, are 20 years old or less. This does not mean that the level of play in the majors will drop off a cliff seven years from now when these players are entering their prime, it just means that so far out, it's hard to see who will emerge from the many players that think they have the stuff to make the MLB.
So this week I'm going to do something a little bit differently and put our best 18-20 year old players side to side with the best players of that age group of our divisional rivals. Had I done this last time with the 22-24 year olds, you would have seen how wide an advantage the Rockies have on the rest of the division. I may revisit that in the next few weeks just for illustrative purposes. In this case, though, the San Francisco Giants easily beat the rest of the division in the 18-20 year old peer group, with five players cracking BA's positional rankings.
So without further ado, here are the best 20 and under players for each team at each position, starting with one the Rockies have a head start in:
Best Catcher under 20: Wilin Rosario, Rockies (BA #19)
(photo by Rockpile Ranter) via baseballsnatcher.mlblogs.com
- Emanuel Quiles, Padres
- Johan Pimental, Diamondbacks
- Hector Sanchez, Giants
- Alexis De La Cruz, Dodgers
For right now, Rosario gives the Rockies an advantage at this position in this age group. I wouldn't disregard Quiles and Pimental, however, who have been toiling in a more difficult hitting environment (the NWL) at a younger age than Rosario was this past season. I expect Wilin to continue his success, but the Padres and D-backs players may be better prospects than they appear. Rossmel Perez may be the better Diamondbacks catching prospect, I see him and Pimental as 1a and 1b. The Giants will have Buster Posey (22, BA #2) for a few seasons, so they'll have plenty of time to restock. The Dodgers are in trouble once Russell Martin leaves or begins his decline.
1st Base: Angel Villalona, Giants (BA #6)
- Andrew Lambo, Dodgers (BA Corner OF #7)
- Bobby Stone, Diamondbacks
Tyler Massey, Rockies
- Tim Atherton, Padres
Most of your future MLB first basemen in this age group will be playing in the outfield at lower levels, that's the case with four of the five I've projected here. Only Vilallona currently plays first. Lambo's going to be a force anywhere he winds up, I'm not trying to disrespect Dodgers fans by going against BA's thought that he can stick in the outfield, I just see an easier path to the majors for him through Loney rather than Ethier or Kemp. If you insist on leaving him in the corner outfield, put him at the top of that list and put Jaime Ortiz, Kyle Orr or Franklin Jacobs at the bottom of this one. As you can see, besides Lambo the Dodgers have quite a few corner players that are intriguing right now, but not yet exciting.
Bobby Stone's a legit sleeper in the Diamondbacks system and he had a considerably better year than Massey in 2008. Our boy Tyler's looking for a breakout campaign in his second professional season. Atherton's another troubled but talented Aussie, cut by the Twins last season for disciplinary reasons, but picked up by the Padres who are very good at combing through other teams' cuts. The Padres have plenty of time for Atherton to find his way with Adrian Gonzalez, Kyle Blanks and Allan Dykstra lined up like ducks ahead of him at the position.
2nd Base: Nick Noonan, Giants (BA #6)
- Reynaldo Navarro, Diamondbacks
- Keisy Marte, Padres
Angelys Nina, Rockies
- Pedro Guerrero, Dodgers
Similarly to first base, second can be tricky to untangle at this age range because many ot the players that wind up here will primarily play shortstop at the lower levels. Again, the Giants prove an exception to this at the top of the standings with Noonan a pure second baseman. The Diamondbacks would argue that their guy belongs on the other side of the bag, but Navarro fits well here. I'd rather we still had Everth Cabrera. In skills, I would take him easily over everybody here save Noonan, and even then I would have picked him because I like the way Everth plays and the energy he brings and because Nick Noonan is a bit of a punk. Yeah I said it.
Shortstop: Andrew Cumberland, Padres
- Ehire Adrianza, Giants (BA #13)
- Carlos Martinez, Rockies
Adrianza seems a little overhyped to me for a player that hasn't left the Arizona League at 19. What's more, hitting in the AZL shouldn't be too difficult for bats as supposedly as polished as his is, particularly for players repeating the level, and yet Adrianza only put up a .255/.349/.382 line this past season. Everything that I'm saying can be equally applied to the Rockies Martinez in the Pioneer League (.284/.350/.388 in a more advanced league, but also nearly a full year older) but you don't see Carlos rated among the best at the position or in the Rockies top ten (Adrianza is rated as the Giants sixth best prospect by BA). While the Giants have legitimate advantages over the Rockies at several other positions, this one is a lot more even than people solely relying on Baseball America may realize. Cumberland has been underrated since he was drafted. He's only six months older than Adrianza but is already three steps ahead and may be ticketed for California League play in 2009.
The Dodgers have Devaris Strange-Gordon (21 y.o.) competing at about the same level with the other four teams' players, and his Pioneer League season in 2008 suggests he may be the best of the bunch or at least as good. Martinez was once greatly hyped by Rockies officials after signing his big bonus, he needs to translate his athletic gifts into performance soon, however in order for the Rockies to keep up with their competition at the shortstop position.
Third Base: Best in division: ?
- Victor Estevez, Diamondbacks
- Edinson Rincon, Padres
I'm sort of at a loss finding any third baseman I feel comfortable bestowing the title of best in the division under 20 on. I guess by default it would have to be one of those two, for now. I believe that the future for the division after Ian Stewart at this position may lie mostly with 21 year olds Connor Gillaspie (Giants) and Pedro Baez (Dodgers) until young internationaly signees like the Rockies Miguel de Leon or the Padres Yefri Pena emerge or better draftees enter these systems.
Left Field: Best in division: Jaff Decker, Padres (BA #12)
Scott Robinson, Rockies
- Alberto Diaz, Diamondbacks
I am fully on the Scott Robinson bandwagon. I think he's one of the Rockies biggest sleeper prospects heading into 2009, and am excited to see how he plays in full season ball. Decker just brutalized the AZL this past season and just turned 19 years old in February.
Center Field: Best in division: Delta Cleary, Rockies
There's a dearth of young natural centerfielders at the lower levels for NL West teams, I believe the Padres have a good one just too old for this survey in Blake Tekotte. If Decker can stick here as he matures into his body, which most scouts doubt, he would be a huge plus at the premium position with his bat. The Giants Wendell Fairley, who turned 21 just today, has also been a bit of a disappointment with his bat, but should he turn it around should also be kept in mind.
On the Rockies front, besides Cleary, I'm also eager to see what Australian David Kandilas brings when he plays with the Casper Ghosts this season.
Right Field: Best in division: Rafael Rodriguez (17 y.o.), Giants,
- Luis Domoromo (17 y.o.), Padres
Julian Yan (17 y.o), Rockies
The Rockies' Leonardo Reyes is another player I feel is a bit underrated, but he doesn't have the upside of the crazy good crop of outfielders that NL West teams have added internationally over the last twelve months.
David Christensen Bonus: Tyrell Worthington of the Diamondbacks has a very slim shot of making the major leagues given his performance, but he's got solid tools and is probably as much of a sleeper as a guy who just hit .143/.255/.183 in the Pioneer League (with over 50% K's!) can be.
Right-handed starter: Best in division: Jarrod Parker, Diamondbacks (BA #6)
- Tim Alderson, Giants (BA #8)
- Ethan Martin, Dodgers (BA #24)
- Adis Portillo, Padres (17 y.o.)
- Parker Frazier, Rockies
Parker is the Diamondbacks best prospect and a fine pitcher, but he's going to have the nearly impossible task of stepping into that rotation with great hype and hope just as Brandon Webb will likely be leaving for greener pastures. Alderson's got less pressure to succeed, but is just about as good. Martin was the Dodgers first round draft choice last season, and may be getting a little too much love given that he has yet to throw a professional inning. Portillo was considered the second best pitching prospect out of last season's international signing period. The sinker/contact oriented Frazier will certainly get overshadowed by this group but so long as he keeps that GB% high, he could wind up having just as much success as they do professionally. 21-year old Jhoulys Chacin ranks #10 according to BA, but frankly I see a better future for him than any of the other five listed here.
Left-handed starter: Best in division: Madison Bumgarner, Giants (BA #3)
- Michael Watt, Padres
Jonathan Vargas, Rockies
- Eury De La Rosa, Diamondbacks
The other four teams better hope their older LHP's have decent longevity, because that's a huge drop-off from MadBum to Watt and then from him to the two DSL pitchers for the Rockies and D-backs. And then there's that infinite drop down to LA's current top young LHP starter prospect. Your guess is as good as mine as to who the Dodgers current best 18-20 year old LHP is, they do have a 21 year old in the majors that ain't too bad, so don't cry for the Bums. Had they not made the playoffs last season, Watt would still be theirs as well, and I'd be scrambling for a Padre, but he was the PTBNL for the Padres dealing Greg Maddux. Vargas and De la Rosa have decent stuff and decent Dominican stats, but both have a long way to go before they're on the MLB radar.
Relief pitcher: Best in division: Nathan Eovaldi, Dodgers
Others: Any starters that aren't going to make it.
Whew!!! That was a bit more massive a project than I thought I would be doing today. So let's put this together. Right now in this age range, the Rockies are competitive at five slots compared to the rest of the division. Catcher, shortstop, left field, center field, and right field. The Giants are similarly competitive in five slots, but they've got massive advantages over the Rockies at first, second and both the RHP and LHP starter slots, whereas the only positions the Rockies have a large talent gap on the Giants are catcher and center field. What's more, adding in near age help that figures to still be productive when this class is peaking like Buster Posey and Connor Gillaspie nullifies those gaps the Rockies have. This is why San Fran is quite a bit ahead of the rest of the division in this age range right now.
In order to catch up, the Rockies will need to continue to outpace San Francisco when it comes to Latin American pitching and it would help if they could add a couple more impact bats in the draft or get some luck in development (Rodriguez busting while Yan breaks out, for instance).